Match verdict: ‘Brave’ McDonald can’t catch a birthday break

Bradford City's Lee Evans vies for possession with Blackpool's Brad Potts
Bradford City's Lee Evans vies for possession with Blackpool's Brad Potts
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Neil McDonald celebrates his birthday this week, and very few of his 50 years will have been quite as eye-opening as this one.

This time last year he’d have been sat in London comfortably within the cocktail lounge of the Premier League with one of the country’s most famous traditional clubs.

He ended his 50th year on a freezing cold foggy night in Bradford, but I get the feeling there’s nowhere he’d rather be.

To McDonald’s credit he’s embraced the challenge of inherited one of the most crazy clubs in the whole of English football, a challenge not many would touch with a bargepole.

And the Blackpool boss has done his reputation no harm in the way he’s handled the situation, last night’s opposite number described him as ‘brave’ last night.

Phil Parkinson said: “I spoke to Lee Clark quite a few times over the summer and he was telling me about the difficulties of managing Blackpool. It was almost the impossible job for him last year.

“In fairness, Neil McDonald has been brave in taking it on. It’s a big challenge – but that’s what we are in the game for.”

And if that’s the case then maybe that challenge explains just why he seems to be enjoying life at Bloomfield Road so much.

The word challenge the key one here.

While many hoped the six game unbeaten run signalled the end of relegation worries, back-to-back defeats have people once again looking over their shoulder behind them, rather than up. Last night’s defeat does nothing in terms of league position, Pool remain just a point above the drop zone with their game in hand now a thing of the past.

Yet again there was very little in the game, Bradford certainly weren’t much better the Pool, but that will matter not come the end of the season.

In last night’s team selection McDonald made two changes from the side which lost in crazy fashion against Bury at the weekend, and there was little surprise to see both full-backs miss-out.

Emmerson Boyce and David Ferguson both had pretty torrid afternoons, they were replaced in the team by Jarrett Rivers and Charles Dunne, Hayden White slipping back into the back four.

You have to say both of the players coming in well deserved their chance, having waited patiently all season in the wings.

Dunne in particular is unlucky not to have featured sooner, particularly after his decent display at Port Vale in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.

As for Bradford, they made just the one change to their line-up, which included former Pool skipper Tony McMahon on the right-wing.

Billy Clarke, who was part of Ian Holloway’s promotion winning side was named on the bench, while former striker Steven Davies missed out through injury.

As the side’s line-up on a freezing cold, foggy evening in west Yorkshire it couldn’t go un-missed just how full the stadium was.

Valley Parade is a strange old set-up, with two huge stands worthy of the Premier League, and the other half looking very much at home in League One.

Either way their pre-season season ticket offer, the lowest priced in the league, attracted 17,000 takers.

Blackpool took to the pitch in a bizarre mix of home and away kits, in tangerine socks, white shorts and blue shirts - they looked a little like that kid in PE who had forgotten his kit.

The official explanation was that the referee chose the combination, the less said the better.

After all the talk of how poor the Seasiders defended at the weekend, they wouldn’t have been happy with handing Bradford a chance just two minutes into the game. They broke down the left before striker James Hanson headed just wide.

It set the tone for the opening eight minutes which wasn’t comfortable at all for the Seasiders against a Bradford side who fired out of the traps.

But soon after Pool had their first spell of possession and with it came a couple of corners, and a half chance for Clark Robertson.

The defender only scored his first career goal a few weeks ago, before adding another at Bury at the weekend, and he was almost at it again last night.

As Bradford failed to clear a second Pool corner on the bounce the ball sat up nicely for Robertson to volley goal wards, only for his effort to be deflected harmlessly away from goal.

The next 10 minutes will have pleased McDonald as the Seasiders settled into a game which has calmed down after a lively opening.

Pool were playing some neat stuff particularly in the middle with Brad Potts looking much more lively after an uncharacteristically quiet game at Bury.

And it was from the midfield which Blackpool next sight of goal came, via Jim McAlister who fired a rasping long-range effort towards goal.

As well struck as it was, it was sadly right down the throat of keeper Ben Williams.

Bradford don’t score too many goals, but you could see their quality in attack in the early stages, with strike force Hanson and Devante Cole linking up well. At it was Birmingham loan man Cole who forced a superb fingertip save from Doyle, he showed neat footwork to create the space at the edge of the area.

All Blackpool’s joy was coming through Jack Redshaw who was dropping deep to get himself involved in the game, and he was behind the game’s next chance on 33 minutes.

He broke down the right before picking out Potts in the box who’s scuffed effort was flicked just wide at the back post by Mark Cullen.

After a positive first half hour the Seasiders were dealt a blow when White limped off injured, to be replaced in a like-for-like swap with Boyce.

On the stroke of half-time all Pool’s positive play was undone, and it was another set-piece which was their downfall.

McMahon’s decent delivery was met by striker Hanson who powered a header past Colin Doyle, it wasn’t a free header like the weekend at least, but McDonald won’t have been a happy man.

After a lively ending to the first, the second half started in much calmer fashion.

If anything it was the home supporters who grew in frustration a little, as their side appeared to sit back instead of chase what would be a killer goal.

And just before the hour mark Blackpool almost got themselves back level after good play from Rivers down the right. He played David Norris in on goal, only for a superb recovering block from Rory McArdle to deflect the ball over the bar.

It was the sort of block Tom Aldred would have been proud of, and it clearly inspired him three minutes later when he denied an almost certain goal.

The defender, in typical fashion, flung himself in front of the ball as Lee Evans looked set to score.

You could sense McDonald felt his side were well in the game, and with 22 minutes left threw on Henry Cameron in place of McAlister down the left.

Moments later Norris couldn’t have come much closer as his long-range effort scrapped the woodwork with keeper Williams well beaten.

Rivers on the wing was getting more and more involved as Blackpool’s pressure grew, and his cross on 70 minutes was glanced goal wards by Cullen.

This was a good Blackpool spell.

Sadly McDonald’s men didn’t manage the breakthrough when on top and by the time the final 10 minutes had arrived the momentum was well and truly drifting away from them.

That proved to be the case in the end as yet another pretty even League One game was shaded by the team which simply took their chance in front of goal.

There’s nothing special or exciting about this division, it’s just who gets lucky on the day.